One persons Yurt build.
--Froits remarks/newer insights in Times New Roman...
This is one personÕs explanation of how I built my most recent Yurt, a 16Õ Mongolian Ger. Because all Yurts are examples of local building techniques I donÕt expect or claim that my way of building is ŌThe WayĶ. There are as many ways as there are Yurts. I change things as I learn and have discarded some accepted ideas for my own. Please be open minded if you study this form. I have listed the two books that have taught me the most but I have about twelve books on my shelf at the present time. Search the Web and print out photos to study from. You will often find that a photo can explain a problems solution far easier than other sources. Be patient. If you get the bug, as I have, this wonÕt be your last chance to demonstrate your ideas.
For over a thousand years the people of the wind swept northern Asia have lived a tough pastoral existence following their flocks with an elegantly simple dwelling made from the limited locally available and renewable resources. This portable shelter has many variations throughout the region depending on the materials and local climate demands. It is commonly know in the west as a Yurt after the Russian word Yurta, considered a derogatory word for Mongolian tent, but each society has its own more respected name. The two general types in the region are more generally described as Turkic, recognized by its steeper roof and rounded shoulders and Mongolian, called a Ger, with its lower general shape, straight roof poles and heavy roof ring supported by two posts. Traditionally these both have trellised collapsible walls supporting a roof pole system ending in a central ring. In preindustrial times these rings often were peaked to draw out the smoke from the central cooking and heating brassier. The versatility of the design can be seen in its use from near artic conditions with heavy wool felt insulation to desert climates where the sidewalls are reed mats to allow air movement.
While these designs seem sweet and primitive to the western eye they are anything but simple. They are in fact masterful and extremely complex designs with complicated engineering interactions that can challenge any mechanical engineer to compute the load limitations. These are skills not generally comfortable to a western builder with a respect for Ōplumb & squareĶ construction. Building a Yurt or Ger requires most western builders to dismiss their prior skill sets and learn to deal in unfamiliar design concepts. In my experience it was futile to try to calculate parabola and intersections on a radial stick of wood. It is much better to take a deep breath, mellow out and just trust tradition.
A typical Mongolian Ger of the type I build normally takes about a months man days for the Mongolian builder to complete with the shop tools available to them. A young Mongolian couple might be given a Ger as a marriage dowery and the couple would expect it to last their lifetime. Many Ger have roof rings, Tonno, inherited from a parent. The skill sets required in Mongolia are generally dedicated to several groups, wood working & steaming or bending wood, felting, and painting. In the west I have taken on the task of attempting all of these skills myself as it is interpreted in my design.
I have been asked why I would want to build a Ger when I could buy a ŌrealĶ one imported from Mongolia for about $5000.00? The reasons are many. I want to have the pleasure of building it myself while solving all the problems that the project requires. I also want a Ger suitable for my climate where there is a lot more rain and snow than Mongolia sees, and I want to control the quality from start to finish so that all the warts are of my own making. I also want to get the thrill out of having created a dwelling that will stand alone with no attachments in a 50 mph wind, while being warm and comfy inside. I can then break it down in an hour and move it and its contents in the back of my compact pickup. These dwellings are delightful and amazing.
I remember as a child the amazing photos of the very difficult life on the steppe from old National GeographicÕs from the 1920s and 30s.I had the same experience as the Dutch Ger Master Froit and many others in having seen the cover of the old counterculture book ŌShelterĶ with a painting of a KahnÕs pleasure palace Ger. I was able to balance all this at a safe cerebral level till I saw an exhibition called ŌModern MongoliaĶ by Paula Sabloff at The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology. That exhibition contained one prerevolution Mongolian Ger and three partial modern Ger from decades of the late twentieth century. I fell in love with the early Ger, and since I had trained as a sculptor and had some experience as a cabinetmaker and patternmaker I thought it would be an easy task for me to duplicate it. I was very wrong. I found that my western skills were not suited to many of the problems. I learned as I built. I studied what texts I could find and searched photographs and drawings for solutions.
I am extremely indebted to two masters who have influenced me. Neither of these writer/teachers probably knows how many they have influenced but I need to credit them here. Paul Kings ŌThe Complete Yurt HandbookĶ was my first valuable discovery. Mr. King builds yurts of both traditional types, Mongolian and Kurtic, in England; they are mostly of coppiced, saplings. I could easily imagine that this was how most early and Yurts were built. As with all of the texts that I have it doesnÕt explain as much as I would like but it still is the ŌbeginnerĶ text that I have given to others. It sells on Amazon for about $25.00 and is a good Yurt 101. It is also available thru his web site at www.woodlandyurts.com where you can see examples of his yurts and view a sample of part of the book.
Froit, Ah Froit. I must admit that I consider this man my Ger Master. I owe him both my respect and awe. As I understand his history Froit apprenticed with a Dutch circus that made a tour of Mongolia shortly after it opened again to the west. He befriended a Mongolian who in turn explained the complexities of Ger construction to him. Probably because of his detailed notes and descriptive pen and ink drawings I have learned more from Froit than several years of mistakes had taught me. Froit has periodically run Yurt building apprentiships thru his summer festival tent & Ger rental operation and his book, really a loose leaf sutra, is used as his training aid. These are apparently real indentured apprentiships where you work hard for the Ger rental business during the festival season and fill in the spare time building your own Ger in his shop. You pay your own way and the cost of materials but you learn from a real master builder. I have a family to support so I didnÕt have the liberty of going to study with him but he prints extra copies of his book for sale from his four wall Ger. The cost of his book ŌThe Real Mongolian Ger BookĶ is available on the web site www.nooitmeerhaast.nl/txteng/the-book.html it was 100 euros when I bought it. I hesitated for a while and kept viewing his web links. Eventually I broke down and sent the money; it was well worth the cost. The sutra comes wrapped, as any valuable eastern text would be, in a silk cover with samples of the woods as front and back covers. The text explains details that I have found nowhere else. Inside in addition to the text and illustrations are samples of felts, canvas UV protective cloth and ploy cords that he uses in his builds. His web site shows many of the Ger produced thru Froit and his partner MaartinÕs shop. I donÕt pretend to be the builder that either one of these is. If you want a full description of how to build a Ger buy both of these books but if only one purchase FroitÕs book. He has most of the dark secrets covered and I wouldnÕt wish to reduce his generosity by not acknowledging my debt to him.
I love learning, I love discovery. This project has allowed me to delve into anthropology, history, design, art, everything. It has opened my eyes to other cultures that I had not been taught about in school. I have learned from travelers and friends who previously been bitten by the Yurt bug. Remember always that yurts are a vernacular structure. They vary according to the climate, materials available and the skills of the builders. Anyone building a yurt will learn and grow from the experience. I found that I could not build one. I learned too much in building the last one not to start the next. I honestly donÕt ever want my learning to stop.
The following is a short photo / essay on the build of my most recent four wall Ger. Starting from the limitations that I found in my five wall Ger I planned this Ger as a smaller dwelling suitable for extreme conditions. I have a plot of land in the northern Adirondacks where snow accumulations of several feet are common. I wanted this Ger to stand up to this heavy snow load and be warm and comfortable. Of particular challenge to western builders has been the insulation. Wool felts are the Mongolian standard but I donÕt have a flock of sheep to provide the wool necessary. Different builders have tried many insulators on the various types of yurts. Froit has substituted laminated wool blankets sewn together to create the covers necessary feeling that these were close to the original felts. I searched and found surplus disaster blankets in poly and wool blend that were a traditional gray color. Laminated in three to five layers these blanket/felts cover my Ger with about 5/8Ķ of insulation. I may need to sew up another set of felts for winter use, but the Ger was cool and comfortable in the 100 F degree heat this summer. It has so far done well with the single layer of Felt in temperatures to 15 degrees F (-10 C). To protect this insulation you need a waterproof cover. We have a greater need for waterproofing here than they do in Mongolia where rainfall is sparse. I have used many waterproof fabrics over the years. At present my choice is industrial Tyvek. This is a heavier more flexible version of those infuriating envelopes that you canÕt rip in half. This material is waterproof but breathable and is made to cover interstate highway shipments. It is available in widths up to 10Õ, cutting down on sewn seam leaks, and can be glued with waterproof glues, aiding and speeding assembly and sewing.
Notes on Tools and Materials.
I have access to AutoCAD and a large format plotter to do layout. As with most of the expensive toys I have it really is not necessary. Craft paper or old cardboard will do to layout anything that you need a full scale profile of. Be patient and plan out your operations before you start cutting. Nothing that is needed to build a Ger is very complicated. More tools make the job easier but not necessarily better. My most used tool is a small apron plane that I trim everything with. For those doubting the need for an entire shop of tools go rent the DVD ŌMujaanĶ it is a documentary on traditional Mongolian Ger building in the traditional manner with only hand tools. After seeing this flick you will bless your small collection of power tools and everything will seem easier. I have included a list and description of all my tools because you will see many of them in the photos, remember IÕm a tool junkie and have collected them over a lifetime. You donÕt need all these to build a Ger, but if you feel the need and donÕt need to own a tool for the long haul try renting at the local home center what you canÕt borrow.
10Ķ Table saw. Ok, mine is really a 12Ķ contractorÕs saw but I have also built with a 9Ķ model, but a 10Ķ is the standard and what most rent or buy. This is the major power tool and the most used. If you donÕt have access to one you probably will want to rent or buy one. They are available used all the time in our local papers. Buy a new 60 tooth finish blade. Use this for the finish cuts and you will have very little sanding. Save the old rip blade for rough cuts.
Jigsaw. Mine is a second hand Bosch. I have several others but the Bosch takes a 3Ķ long blade for deep cuts, it cuts true, and runs like a sewing machine. Most of what I do with curved cuts on my stationary bandsaw could also be done with this saw.
Circular saw: I use a small 7 ¼Ķ sidewinder for rough cuts. Because I finish many of the cuts with a small hand saw you know I canÕt say this is necessary though it makes the work go faster.
Band Saw: This definitely isnÕt necessary but I have it so I make use of it. It makes curved cuts in any wood easily. Mine is an old Rockwell Delta 14Ķ.
Variable speed Drill: I use a battery operated Dewalt but any cheap plug in drill will also do. I use it for a variety of drilling operations and screwdriving.
Drill Press: Again this is not necessary but I have it so I use it because it allows me to make more accurate holes with less work for some operations.
Electric Hand planer. I use a small 3Ķ electric planer to speed some operations where a lot of wood needs to be removed. I always end finishing with a hand plane.
Mortising Machine: This is probably my most esoteric tool. It drills square holes and I use it to cut the slots for the roof rafters in the crown as well as its normal operation of mortises to build the door. These jobs can be done with a drill and chisel, but once you have used a mortise machine you will pay to rent one for the crown.
Belt Sander: Mostly used to waste away and finish off large surfaces.
Orbital or Jitterbug sander. Smaller finish sander.
Sewing Machine: I have an old black Singer model 403 made for home use in the 1950s. It isnÕt smart and doesnÕt know that it shouldnÕt sew thru ¾Ķ of blankets. Modern machines do wonderful things but donÕt survive my abuse. I use (break) lots of needles and use polyester thread so seams wonÕt rot.
--use poly-cotton thread for waterproof seams--
You will need a healthy assortment of hand tools. Used tools from garage sales or auctions work just as well as new ones and are often better values. I would much rather buy a used quality tool than a cheaper new one. I know what the costs are for most tools at the local home center and hardware stores, so itÕs easy to balance the cost and quality. Get a little Zen, hold the used tool in your hand inspect it and feel its vibe. If it feels right place your bid. If you are young and plan on a life that might use these tools buy quality. The tools will repay you over time. If you are not planning on using them for more than this project, buy less expensive tools or try to borrow extras from friends.
Of the special hand tools that I use one web site that offers some unique tools at very good quality/cost. I have purchased tools and hardware from www.leevalley.com. for about six years and never had a problem. They import and manufacture quality tools and hardware that are well designed and often not available anywhere else. I often find new solutions to problems in their catalogs. Their deliveries are fast, and customer service is really helpful.
Imperial/Metric tape measure: I placed this first because many would ignore the importance of it in the plan. I have gradually been won over by the metric system mostly due to the ease of figuring out divisions of a circle. It is so much easier with a division of 10 or 100 rather than 12 and 36. Most of the rest of the world uses the metric system so almost all my reference sources were reading in meters. If you are buying a rule just spend a few dollars more and buy one that has both measures on it you will thank me later. I have both a Stanley 5m/16Õ and a Kobalt 33Õ/10M. The Kobalt from LoweÕs is twice the size but costs about the same; itÕs also a bit stiffer. I use both, the Kobalt will measure out without folding over but the Stanley will wrap around a roof rings (Tonoo) edge truer because its thinner.
Combination Square: There arenÕt to many square cuts in a finished Ger but you do need to make a door frame and it is indispensable for layouts and building jigs for easing other jobs along.
Hammers and mallets: This is personal preference first. I would advise against framing hammers with checkered faces that will mar/ rosebud finished surfaces and ruin your chisel heads, but other than that the choice is yours, I use several. If your chisels donÕt have metal caps you probably will want a mallet so that their handles will last longer.
Chisels: I have an assortment but use ½Ķ and 1Ķ the most often. The steel on most chisels are pretty good these days. If you use a hammer look for metal caps on the handles or expect to replace the tool or handle when it mushrooms. You pay for the polish & finish grind on the better quality tools.
Hand Planes: I have several sizes but the one that I could not work without is a 1 5/8Ķ block plane with an adjustable throat. The one that I use the most is a slightly smaller block plane called an apron plane by Lee Valley. It doesnÕt have an adjustable throat but it has the blade set at a low angle and the steel is a very hard A2 steel that stays sharp and will give a glass finish even on knots. If you donÕt have an electric tool to waste material you might also want a larger plane. These are measured in old English standards but any between a #6 (18Ķ) down to a #4 (9 ½Ķ) will remove lots of wood fast. These can be had second hand or from your local home center. A sharp blade is more important than the finish grind especially if you donÕt expect to use it much. My local home center sells a #4 Stanley of good quality new for about $35.00.
Files and rasps: You will find a use for an assortment and your collection will grow as you find the need. The one that I would advise as a good one to start is called a laminate file. This file has two flat faces with a rough and fine cut and a safe edge that you will find a blessing to help you to protect finished surfaces abutting what you are filing.
Utility Knife: You probably have one but buy extra blades so you can be sure to have a sharp edge. You will find many uses for it.
Sharpening stone: to keep you blades sharp, and yes you will eventually learn how to use it. If you want a better one cheap try www.ragweedforge.com and scroll down the page to sharpening supplies. Ragnar (his name) sells diamond sharpening plates as well as more traditional stones cheaper than most. All of his products are of good quality and the service is very down home. His site has good advice on sharpening and how to care for blades.
Clamps: When you are gluing up wood or bending it you will need to hold it tight. You can minimize the number that you need but you will never have enough. Cheap Taiwanese clamps will work fine especially if you use waste wood to spread out the pressure. I have lots of old 6Ķ and 12Ķ Jorgensen bar clamps. Plan your work before buying clamps that you donÕt need. I also use ratcheted load straps as clamps for large and irregularly shaped items. They are cheap at the local home center.
Titebond II waterproof glue: This glue sands well and cleans up with a wet rag. Titebond is my first and most often used glue. If you fall for the hype of the Gorilla glue folks then read the instructions carefully. This brand and most of the other Urethane glues are waterproof but donÕt have either the resilience or impact resistance of the titebond in my experience. You need to clamp any glue tight and with urethanes be sure to wear disposable rubber gloves. You can remove some of this glue from your skin with WD40 if you get it while wet; otherwise it has to wear off. The squeeze out from the urethane type glues is considerable when you moisturize the surfaces for a good bond. Clean off the waste after 24 hours and sand back to your finished edge. This is a good glue for some situations. I did use it on the crown on this Ger but I still donÕt like it. I plan on going back to all Titebond on my next Ger.
--we dumped the single-component polyurethane, after a couple of years not waterproof.
We now put our trust in a 2-component, non-foaming polyurethane--
Aluminum foil, cling wrap and zip lock bags: You will find lots of use for each of these to help save time, money and materials. I use the cling wrap to protect surfaces from glue and to tightly wrap glued surfaces. The aluminum foil is used to wrap and keep wet brushes and rollers before I zip them in the poly bags till next use. I reuse the zip bags from vegetable purchases to put my stuff in.
Paper towels or rags: I prefer rags since they would be thrown away but at times paper towels are an aid for glue squeeze out and emergency spill cleanups.
Steamer: This is the phase that scares most people away. Steam bending wood is not that difficult. I have a small electric kettle with an aluminum pipe added. It is stuck into a hole drilled thru the side of a 4Ķ section of PVC sewer pipe. Caps attached on each end allow the pipe to accept about seven wall slats to cook for about 45 minutes. They are removed one at a time and slowly bent and clamped over a bending form. The cooled slats are allowed to dry in the sun the next 24 hours before being unclamped.
Remember that this is a structure built from locally available materials. In Mongolia since the Russian revolution the construction of Ger was collectivized. The preferred material was processed lumber that was condusive to repetitive factory processes. From all accounts this created some of the best quality Ger seen in Mongolia. Froit has added some western modifications with his designs and builds his using the dimensional lumber that he buys or harvests. Paul King has coppiced willow and hazel available as round saplings so he uses round stock instead of consistently dimensioned stock. This gives his frames a more primitive/traditional look but they are still Ger and I donÕt doubt their strength or beauty. Use what you have available. If you live in the country near logging check the lumber mills for low cost culls or discounts on rough stock. You might find the cost of a nice thickness planer is off set by the lower price you pay. I have up to this time contented myself with the pickings from the local home center. This is partially laziness on my part but IÕve rationalized that these first several Ger were my twenty first century equivalent of a Victorians garden folly. I know that that is what my neighbors must think, but I really know that itÕs gone way beyond that by now.
In Mongolia IÕm told most Ger are built with a mix of soft and semi hard woods.
--hard Larch.Tamarack for walls and rafters, soft pine for doors, roof-ring and supports.--
Much of my Ger are of dimensional softwoods 2x4s to 2x12s off the rack. I am careful and very choosey about what I buy. I wait till after the weekend warriors are done and the pallet is replaced, then on late Monday or Tuesday I choose my stock. I normally find about ten knot free straight 2xs out of each pallet. That means that it takes me several months of purchases to amass the material for walls (Han), or rafters (Un). In the interim the wood is stacked with scrap placed between layers to dry. I have been lucky to have a ready supply of heavy duty pallets made of hardwoods that have given me large dimensioned stock for door thresholds and sills I also have used some of this for the crown (Tono). Be very careful with used lumber. They often contain broken nails that are potentially dangerous missiles when hit by power tools and will dull your hand tools.
All wood, especially softwoods need to be protected from rot to last. I use a marine alkyd primer on all painted surfaces. It is more expensive but I feel the properties of its waterproofing and the ability to fill small voids between sandings far out weighs the increased cost. I use a mix of penetrating oils and boiled linseed oil on raw wood that is not painted with color. I pick a good hot day and dip the wall slats feet and saddles in the oil before painting on two coats with a weekÕs interval between each coat to set up the oil film.
I have been buying my paint at the Opps rack at the local home center. I stockpile rejected colors as I see ones that I can tolerate and mix them to my needed hues. Because oil paints are banned as VOCs in the states these are all latex which donÕt last too well in weather. Plan on repainting in several years or pay the much higher cost of marine alkyd coatings. I know it doesnÕt make much financial sense in the overall cost and time spent but I sill cannot break down and pay $45.00 for the necessary gallon of marine paint when I can buy a $5.00 gallon of Opps latex. If you go for my skinflint choice hold out for semi gloss or gloss paint, it will offer some additional weather resistance.
This is a photo of the four wall Ger after a 10 day inaugural test at a local festival. The frame and fittings are complete but the cover has not been trimmed around the door. It is shown with its flexible summer smoke hole cover, Urgh. The front clear half of this felt cover can be pulled back and the side walls on the windward side rolled up to provide natural air conditioning. The extra roof rafters on the sides of the door are traditionally carried as emergency replacements, but I have never broken one. They are useful to push the covers in place though so IÕm happy to drag them along.
--you don't see them in Mongolia, they are usually a couple of rafters short, even from new--
Han , (walls)
This is the basement shop in my little NJ bungalow. The space is so small that some of my shop operations require that I break down one operation to make space for another. As with any complicated project this build takes planning and patience to get the job done and not be frustrated. The slats on the table are the wood for the (Han) walls. The sample under the saw on the table will be laid out on the slat and marked using the best, or eliminating the worst, of the wood. The sample is called the pattern, and has screws with the points protruding thru it. When the pattern is pressed against the slat the bottom end and the ŌsaddleĶ shape to carry the corresponding roof rafter (Un) is marked for cutting with the jigsaw. As the pattern is pressed to pencil the ends the screw points mark the locations for drilling the holes that attach the walls together. There are 32 slats per Han, 19 whole and 13 cut for top and bottoms. This is a four wall Ger so that is 128 pieces + 10% for errors and breakage in steam bending = about 140. I made 150 pieces and got lucky. I had 10 left over. Each slat on this Ger is oversized for snow load. They are 17 x 38 x 210 mm (5/8Ķx 1 ½Ķ x 82 5/6Ķ). This would be the dimension of the stock for walls for the next larger sized (5 wall) Ger. These individual slats were cut by quartering 2x4x 8Õ studs. It took almost 50 selected studs to obtain the pieces for this operation. The loss of material is attributed to those knots that couldnÕt be cut out or were not seen at purchase.
The roof ring hanging in the upper right was the aborted attempt at my first yurt abandoned after my second visit to the ŌModern MongoliaĶ exhibit. It was of western type construction and used 24 cedar 2x4s as rafters with an aircraft steel cable tension band around the top of the walls.
This is my rig for steaming the wall slats (Han). The shaped and drilled Han are placed in the pipe and steam is fed in from the small boiler at the bottom. The bottom cap is glued on and has a small weep hole to avoid pressure buildup. The top is pressure fit with a handle to remove and replace it quickly. Yes the boiler really is an electric tea kettle with a short piece of pipe attached. I have used several types of steamers from large propane tanks with a thirty gallon capacity to this little kettle. This works fine for my small scale operation although I do need to refill the water at about 45 minutes. The wood is steamed for 120 minutes as I determined by testing. They are then bent and clamped on the bending form in the background and left to dry for 24 hours. Each type of wood bends differently you will need to experiment to know what is to short (it breaks) or to long.
This is the top end on the 4Ķ PVC pipe. The bottom end is glued shut except for a small drain hole to allow condensed water to escape. It is very important that the drain be provided to allow safe steaming. The top cover is left loose except for a bolt thru the cap to use as handle; this facilitates quick removal of each slat for bending and allows the cap to be returned quickly so the remainder will stay pliable till ready for bending. I can fit 6 Han at a time in this tube. My bending jig will hold 12 Han at a time.
This photo shows the steamer with 5 Han in the bending jig and one Han left coming out of the steamer. Each piece is handled separately and bent on a count of about six seconds. You will break a few Han when you start and will learn the timing of how long to steam and how quickly you can bend. This is much more an art than a science. After a few breaks you will have a sixth sense about which small knots will break and where to go slowly on a bend. The Han ends are placed in the bending jig under a metal strip to hold the top end and after they are bent to the bottom they are clamped. They will spring back about 14Ķ if all goes to plan. They do not need to all be exactly the same. After about a week of drying I oil them with good penetrating oil mixed with linseed oil. This is done by first dipping the feet and tops twice to assure that the most important parts are protected, then after each drying they are given two complete coats to protect the wood from decay.
After the han are dry and cured they need to be tied together. This involves 19 whole and 13 cut slats for each finished Han, the butt ends of each cut slat are used at the other side of the han. The process is repeated for each of the four Han with special cuts being made for the finished edge at the Haddagh (door frame). The Han are tied with a poly rope 3/16 or 4mm. All knots are sealed with a hot iron to assure that they wonÕt untie. There are about 145 knots in each Han.
--32 (whole slats) x 9 (holes in each) makes roughly 288, in Europe at least.
one hole means also one knot..--
It takes a lot of work and itÕs a drag till you build a rhythm. Check your work when you start to make sure that the left is over the right as you tie them up (from the inside). This will take several days in total but I stretch it out over a week or more so my fingers will not hate me too much.
Tonoo, (roof ring or crown )
This is the start of the glue up for the roof ring (Tonoo). It consists of three layers of clear 2x10s cut as eight pieces for each layer. The glue up is first dry fitted and checked for accuracy. All the material and tools necessary are placed close at hand prior to the start. Note that the flat cleared floor space has plastic to protect it from the glue squeeze out. The band clamps around each layer are protected by cling wrap. Blue painters tape covers each joint to hold the glue up together while the clamps are attached. The whole glue up was left to cure for 24 hours before the clamps were removed to start cutting the ring from the solid blank.
After the glue up was set and the clamps removed I placed a stack of waste wood in the center to duplicate the thickness and used a trammel stick (a stick compass with a nail and pencil) to draw the edges of the ring.
I am missing the photos of me attempting to horse around the large ring blank for cutting. I did set up three roller supports at the band saw to cut the waste away at an angle, sloping to the outside. In retrospect it might have been easier to cut this with the Bosch jig saw. The cuts end up a bit rough anyway and are evened up with the belt sander. I ended up cutting the inside cut at a taper and the outside plumb.
This photo shows me starting the holes for the rafters (Un). I spent about an hour laying out the locations of the cuts and marking the edges so that the cuts would all be the same. I am using a small mortising machine here. It is basically a drill press with a chisel mounted around the bit. Although I could have drilled with a bigger bit, the wood is hard and the tool would bog down so IÕve made many cuts (6 each) to complete each hole. I checked each hole for accuracy with a pattern piece cut to the finished Un tip size.
The holes have to be drilled at an angle. What angle you ask? It depends on what pitch your roof is set at. I set my angle a bit steep as we have a lot of rain in my part of the country and I want it to run off fast. The pitch of the drilled holes is set by a board supporting the top of the ring against the machine, while the bottom of the ring is angled away at the slope that I wanted the holes set at. At this next picture you see the carriage under the ring that that supports the bottom of the ring on the floor and maintains a constant angle.
As you can see the wheels support the work and allow the rotation on the mortise machine. ItÕs a simple jig but it does the trick and allows me to keep a consistent angle for the mortises.
--recently I have started cutting my holes RECTANGULAR, 26 x 27 mm, to allow for uneven-ground-pitching--
--that is, for rafter-tips at 25 square--
In this next photo I am starting the decorations (hammers) on the inside of the ring. I decided to cut them here this time. I guess I just like a challenge. I had to lay these out several times. It is basically a lay out on the inside of a cone. It took several attempts to get it correct. The math and the width of the pencil lines almost beat me. Due to the fact that the radius is also pitched at an angle all of the jigs must be made to fit the slope of the work. You will see this better on the sled that the small router rides on. The pencil lines did end up very close to perfect in the end. One note here is to pick the location of the center of the door before you start the layout. Have your decorations and rafter (un) holes marked from there or your whole design will be off center. This is less important if you paint your decorations on after building the tonoo, but will hold true for the next step which will set the four quarters and the small center ring.
This next photo is showing the jig that I made to cut the horizontal cuts with a router for the roof ring (haddagh). The sled (jig) has several sets of holes that allowed the router to cut each of the horizontal lines for the hammers. The verticals were then cut with a square set with stop blocks to avoid over cutting the horizontal lines. The sled block at the top repeats the angle of the inside of the rings taper. I have adapted this from FroitÕs design but it is much heavier and, I fear, doesnÕt do the concept of a lighter Tonoo justice. It also was a lot of extra work to create the taper on the inside. While it does give a lighter feel to the inside of the Ger it is a lot of extra work and first time builders might want to simplify and cut a straight inside edge. That said IÕll probably use this design next time and build a much more delicate tonoo with a harder wood. Yes, I am glutton for punishment.
--I don't want to brag, but here's how they do it in Mongolia: drawing is done with a perforated sturdy paper template, and then they put a small 1/4"-bit in a huge 2 Kw router, and go for it free-hand. The sheer weight of the router gives them enough control not to slip--
After the horizontals are cut the sled was removed from the base and a right angle sled was hung over the side to guide the vertical cuts. I redraw the construction lines and erase the places where I donÕt want to cut since it is easy to cut where you donÕt mean to. Remarkably I didnÕt make a false cut.
This next photo shows the finish trimming of the hammers. The router leaves round edges and to make the corners crisp and clean, I trim them square. It takes some time but it looks better. I found that a utility knife worked the fastest for me here.
This is the mark up of the slots for the unuk cross braces. The primary four quarters have already been mortised into the small top ring. The remaining four will be mortised into the assembly as it takes place since they did not need to be cross braced thru the small center ring when it was glued up. This mortise is one of the four quarters and is directly over the Un mortise so I know it is the north side of the Tonoo.
--in the book I elaborate over this detail, and show a much more waterproof solution.
But also much more complicated joinery, I must say--
When the pockets for the unuk are marked I make repeated cuts with a circular saw then clean out the pockets with a chisel. Taking the time to make these pockets tight and clean will make the finished glue up strong and easy to prepare for paint. In most Mongolian Ger this attachment is pegged with a wooden dowel. This use of what boat builders call treenails predates modern glues. I use modern glues and tight seams.
I have repeated the construction of the small center ring and the curved unuk arms. My Tonoo is heavier than many that I have seen, and is similar to the old museum Tonoo that I had seen. I have not tried a lighter Tonoo but have seen photos of much lighter more delicate forms. I do know that the weight and strength of this one will survive a fall during assembly without failure. Yes, unfortunately I have proved this by accident.
This is the glue up of the unuk and center ring to create the full Tonoo. As you can see the center ring is lighter, only two thicknesses of 2x stock. The ring and cross braces are mortised and glued as a unit before being glued to the outer ring. I used polyurethane glue (Gorilla glue) for this assembly. This glue is basically a thick expanding liquid of the family thatÕs includes expanding insulation foam. It glues by expanding to fill the void. It sometimes seems to expand uncontrollably. Wiping the surfaces to be glued with a wet sponge assures that the glue will expand and tack to both surfaces. I was not too happy with the glue, it isnÕt as forgiving to shock, being somewhat brittle, and cleanup is a mess. Any excess glue will continue to foam and expand for several hours. My next Tonoo will probably be glued up with Titebond 3 which is also waterproof but the squeeze out cleans up with water. I would advise anyone to test both types before use to see if they meet your needs and expectations. I tested bond strength I but didnÕt do any shear testing or consider the problems of clean up with the urethane.
--we dumped the single-component polyurethane, after a couple of years not waterproof.
We now put our trust in a 2-component, non-foaming polyurethane--
This is the inside of the Tonoo after the glue up and subsequent rounding of the sanded surfaces. At this point the nut for the center eye bolt has been drilled and plugged and the top of the front, south unuk, have had gutters routed, a la Froit, for rainwater run off from his removable window design.
HereÕs the top view with the gutters cut in. The only remaining item to complete before priming is a gullet for the rain apron, another of FroitÕs innovations.
--better cut this gullet before the glue-up--
I prime the surfaces with 3 coats of a high solids alkyd marine primer. I lightly steel wool between layers and after the third to assure a good surface for the following layer.
Ok. The weather has improved and I have happily moved
painting operations to my old 5 wall Ger in the back yard. As you can see this
5 wall Ger has no wool cover, but thatÕs fine for a well lit studio space in
temperate weather. You can see the Han for this 4 wall Ger inside the 5 wall.
Notice that the individual slats are heavier on the 4 wall and the spacing is
tighter (traditional spacing). Priming of each of those mortise holes is time
consuming but needs to be carefully done to insure a long life. When I get to
painting I like to paint the insides of the mortises for the shorter un over
the door with a separate color. This makes assembly during pitching faster and simplifies
explaining to novices where the parts go. Remember to mark out these locations
because it is too easy to mix up where the south side and not have the six un
centered over the door & frame (haddagh). Despite my best intentions I did
just that and ended up cutting an extra set of gutters to correct my
center/south location. You can clearly see the slot for the rain apron cut about
1 inch (2.5cm) below the taper of the top. This slot will have a rubber apron
with a piece of poly rope as a compression strap. This works like the rubber
stripping on the edge of your screen door to hold the apron in place.
--wooden slat of the right dimension will also do--
Un, (roof rafters)
There are 64 Un in my 4 wall Ger that correspond to the 58 saddles at the tops of the Han and the 6 over the doorframe (haddagh).
--hmm, I really thought there were 15 on each Khana, and 6 on the door, giving 66.
Heck, I must be wrong--
The individual un are cut from selected 2x2 stock. That is to say I picked the cleanest 2x4s, really 1 ½ x 3 ½Ķ (4.5 x 9 x 244cm) at my local home center. These are a mix of Douglas fir and hemlock. IÕm not concerned about the spices but I am looking for clear straight grained wood. Some weeks I would only find 10 in a pallet of a new delivery. Other weeks I might find 15 and a few 2x6, or 8s that would give me stock for un and Han. I saved the best for the han since they are of smaller dimension and need to be clearer stock to survive the steam bending. My prerequisite for un was that the knots need to be tight and smaller than 3/16Ķ (5mm). Any loose or blown knots are culled as the process of milling these un rafters take place. I expected about a 20% rate of waste and my expectations for the low quality of the wood was about correct.
The first part of the operation was to rip the 2x4 stock in half creating two pieces for the individual un. I cut about 80 pieces of stock. I marked the top 24Ķ (61 cm) so that I know where the tapered end is. I pick the clearer end for this since I will be doing some hand work here that doesnÕt like knots. Because the stock is milled at about 7Õ 3Ķ (220 cm) to allow for trimming later I have excess length in the 8Õ piece to cut knots off of either or both ends. With the stock cut to length and the tapered end marked I first round the long end by rounding over the wood on a router table with a ¾Ķ (2 cm) radius bit. The finished thickness of the 2x2 really is 1 ½Ķ square so the round over bit nicely rounds all four sides. This would potentially be a problem but the table is long enough to support the un trimmed end to safely pilot the stock thru the cutter. If you get in too much of a hurry and hog the wood then you will ruin a lot of stock so go slow and if you need to feed thru on two passes to come down to the surface do it. The amount of stock you save will be nothing compared to the pain and possible injury caused by exploding wood caused by a blow back or a fracture causing tear out to fly everywhere.
--optimal speed for cutting wood is 100 miles an hour, which is what most saws and routers do at their cutting-edges, and so does the waste--
Be careful using large bits like these are a danger. Wear your safety mask or goggles and a shop apron.
I first start by radiusing the finished end of the un where it meets the taper. I then mill the remainder of the length. The uneven radius left by the round over will be corrected with a quick trim of a utility knife before sanding.
Here you see the stock being fed thru the router table one side has been radiused and the remaining sides are about to be fed thru the fence. This is all very straight forward mill work. With the best of intentions and careful work only a few mistakes are made mostly attributable to unseen weaknesses in the wood.
Here is a dayÕs work ready for the tapering to begin on the unfinished ends. The next step is to mark the tapers then to taper them down.
This is the setup for the tapers. It is just a simple wooden stop block on my bench which I push the end to be tapered against. I do the tapers in three steps. The first uses an electric plane to waste away a large amount of wood. This could be done with a bench plane with more work. After several un I found that tree passes with the electric plane followed by a few passes with hand planes of different sizes brings me down to the point of final trim. This was done with the apron pale after checking against my copy of the sockets in the tonoo.
This is what the surface looks like after three passes on each side of the stock with the electric plane.
Here you see the assortment of planes in use to finish the surface. The #5 on the un is taking off one pass of material it will then be followed by finish planes as needed. The last plane will be the small black block plane; it is mostly buried in sawdust in the middle of this photo.
This is the finish pass with a low angle block plane. I this case it is a skew angle plane that handles wild grain and knots without tear out. It leaves a glass smooth finish and takes off curls so thin that they are translucent. Some tools make you happy to use them this plane and the small apron plane finish the surface quickly and allow you to end each of these tasks with a good feeling.
After the un are sanded and trimmed to fit the tonoo the un are primed and sealed. Eventually they will be given a color coat and trim painting as a decorative finish. In the back you can see the Tonoo and the door with primer coats of red acrylic enamel.
Haddagh, (door frame and door)
The door frame and door to a Mongolian Ger are the only plum and square builds that approximate western carpentry and its skills. The traditional door frame is square and unusually short by western standards, in most Ger the door itself is less than 4Õ 8Ķ high (140 cm). I have had the design explained as a defensive mechanism, you have to duck you canÕt fight while entering. I prefer to believe it is just the need to keep the wall height consistent with a stout frame to tie the walls to. I know from use that the frame can easily carry the load of the roof and support the walls that are tied to it. I have built several doors and frames for 5 wall Ger, both double and single door styles. I have built solid and collapsible frames door frames, and although I love the convenience of a double door in a 4 wall it doesnÕt look right. I now lean towards the solid frames and single doors. In this Ger I wanted to try FroitÕs modification of the door with a slightly curved top. This idea made sense to me; I had done some drawings of the idea several years ago with a much higher crown but rejected them as looking like a hobbit house. FroitÕs design looks good and avoids the awkwardness of changing the pitch over the doors that had me reject my attempts at increased head space.
This door frame is a simple mortise and tendon frame. The stock for the frame is about 2 3/8Ķ (6 cm) thick. The top threshold and header are solid pine from old pallets. The sides are laminated and glued. I built the door frame with a fully recessed door. The frame also had mortised slots for two straps thru the inside edge to allow straps that are used in the initial Ger setup to be attached. The hardest part of this construction is the glue up. The door frame has about a 4Ķ (10 cm) rise to the top. It really has been a pleasant surprise to realize the number of bumps my head has avoided.
This is the frame from the outside of the Ger before paint or hardware has been added.
Bagan, (center posts and turtles)
The center of a Mongolian Ger has the Tonoo supported by two posts. These posts are mostly traditional and are not necessary in most situations. They come into play mostly in very severe weather when the uplift of a Ger in high winds and the subsequent slamming back down might cause potential collapse. The posts prevent downward pressures after uplift easing the stress on the tonoo mortises. They have traditionally been associated with the Ōtree of lifeĶ supporting the tonoo ring which is also symbolic of the heavens and the universe. The cross braces have supports called dragons at the top supporting the heavens and a turtle at the bottom supporting the tree of life from sinking into the ground. These are sometimes as in my Ger more deliberately created as the symbols that the myth represents. Depending on the size of the Ger these can have straight or curved tops. In a four wall they are generally straight in order to save useable space between the center and the furniture placed against the outside wall.
My dragons are curled around the post and are painted. They follow the pattern of Mongolian dragons with four toes (the Chinese who claim that the dragons are from their land and claim that as dragons get further away from Peking they loose toes, theirs have five). My dragon uses its shape and the clouds to create shapes that support the cross brace. The Turtle is also pretty deliberate in design although mine is shaped like a new world turtle, as it resides here. The second turtle, as yet uncarved will be a more traditional turtle more squat design similar to those guarding the four corners of the old Golden Hoard capitol of Kharkhorin.
--two of which can still be seen there, 8 feet long, 5' high and wide--
This is the cut out of the dragon with the mortises cut on the edges. The areas that needed to be thicker are built up with a second layer of wood laminated on.
This is what several hours of roughing out the carving does to the blank. I used both power and hand tools to get to this point.
This is the first dragon after being mortised into the post and cross brace. Notice the expansion of the polyurethane glue from the joints. The carving was only roughed out, more carving will take place after the clamps are removed. The shapes will become more apparent after some additional carving and the primer is applied.
This is the start of the first turtle carved out of a cedar blank similar to the one behind it. I made the turtle out of cedar because it would resist rot better than most woods. It will still be primed and sealed with marine sealer. The socket in the top goes half way thru the turtle to spread the load over a larger area. A almost hate to
Here is the first paint coat. My wife is an artist so she will probably have pity on the dragon and fix its makeup. This does give a fairly good impression of what I was looking for though.
As I said this is an American turtle, as befitting a Ger in the Americas. I expect the other one will be more traditional. I couldnÕt resist the glass eyes.
I couldnÕt resist the urge to start assembling the frame. Even though I hadnÕt finished the dragons (the second baganÕs dragon still is not installed) I started the first pitch to see if all my parts fit up. I did need to trim my un back about 4Ķ (10 cm)
--that's strange, but then, if you have only 58 on the walls, maybe it makes sense--
but all the parts went up mercifully easy. The difference between a 4 wall and a 5 wall are most pronounced when you are working alone. I know that it is not advisable to pitch alone but I admit to having done it many times. It is so much easier with this Ger. Unlike my 5 wall Ger this GerÕs walls are rigid enough to snap together by themselves. If you look at this photo closely you will see that have not evened up the wall to the left of the door to the frame height. I mark one of my spare un with the height of the door frame and walk it around the perimeter as I adjust the walls. This obviously has not taken place. The door sports a Lexan window, as yet undecorated, lock and lift off hinges. At this point the door was too tight for the frame and had to be planed to adjust to the weather (yes, I was warned). My door also has a tribute to its ancestry over the door with the addition of a 13th century Mongolian bronze coin (probably a Chinese forgery) imbedded in the frame.
Many modern Mongolian Ger now have silk or ornate cloth covers hung on the inside walls and a similar fabric above the un to make the inside of the Ger more pleasant and bright. I have found that the inside Han invaluable for hanging the needs for daily life. I didnÕt want to loose that by hanging an inside decorative curtain. I have instead chosen to use a surplus parachute as a inside liner over the entire ger.
--do you have a fire-extiguisher at hand?--
I purchased a 30Õ (9 meter) white parachute from a military surplus site. It was an old Chinese pilotÕs chute with the shroud lines cut off. It came complete with the harness and bag. I cut and sewed the top to fit around the tonoo and door as well as trimming the bottom to ground level. Eventually I intend to sew an 18Ķ (46 cm) strip of no see um netting to a band around the bottom. This will give me the air but not the bugs so that in warm weather I can roll up the sides for a draft and not have to worry about getting up to lower the walls if the breeze dies during the night. We refer to the draft caused by lifting the side covers on the windward side and opening the top windows as Mongolian air conditioning. The draft is really quite impressive.
In Mongolia a four wall Ger would be expected to have a cover made of the wools of the family flocks. This is usually sheep, probably about 200 of them. Since I donÕt have a flock of sheep I followed FroitÕs recommendation of old blankets sewn together. I spent some time searching the web for good buys on surplus blankets. I wanted to have a consistent color if I could afford it. I bought several samples and tested them for decay and rot before settling on a non woven disaster blanket that was a mottled grey color that looked and felt like felt. The material is about 50% wool. I would have preferred all wool but it actually faired better in my rot test than processed 100% wool did. The deciding factor was the availability of the disaster blankets in large quantities at very low costs. I ended up paying a little over $4.50 each for quantities of 12.
--no wonder America is nearly bankrupt--
The covers are in five pieces. Two wall covers, two half circle top covers and the smoke hole cover (urgh).
I started with the wall covers since they allowed me an easy start to familiarize myself with the material and the inherent problems that working with a new material creates. I quickly found that my attempts at laying out the lamination process of four layers of blankets by planning it out on sheets of post its was more difficult when boosted to full size. After a walk thru of the local sewing megamart I discovered a customer extolling the use of heat sensitive binding tape. I bought a pack and tried a sample test by sewing up an Urgh. I found that while the heat necessary to penetrate the wool did compress it some, it held the pieces for me to sew them together. I am sure that there are many better ways of doing this assembly, but I am not good at sewing, so this was a gift from above. I found that all of the work that I needed to sew could be laminated first then sewn as deep as my old black singer would reach. Even better I found that Ikea sold the heat tape much cheaper than the sewing center. I added layers at stress points and sewed on 1Ķ (2.5 cm) webbing to allow me to tie off and secure the covers at what I felt were strategic points.
My all suffering family put up with several weeks of disruption while I laid out the roof & wall sections on my dining room floor. Here you can see the darker areas where the iron has heated the wool to melt the heat tape. It took seven blankets per layer and four layers to create the thickness that I wanted for each half of the top. I used a lot of blankets. My final felts are between ½Ķ and 5/8Ķ thick. This has proven OK for my NJ area but I will probably need an additional layer for the Adirondacks.
At this stress point I added an extra layer before sewing the edges and adding the webbing to tie the sections in place. You can just see a bit of the heat tape looking like a honey comb patterned band at the bottom of the point of the fillet.
IÕm jumping ahead a little here. This shows the frame up with the inside cover draped over it. I am fitting the rough first layer of the blanket felts over the frame to check for fit. The blankets on the ground are for the side walls.
Now you can see why I was so delighted in the information that I had learned from FroitÕs book. The unfinished 4 wall Ger in the front is the latest addition to my camp. The white top cover is the new tyvek cover. This material is the industrial version of tyvek made to cover interstate truck loads. It is waterproof and breathable, can be glued with waterproof glues and is claimed to have a 5 year UV life. The older 5 wall looks rather dumpy with weaker walls that are almost vertical. Without a felt cover the 5 wall is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. The lower pitch on the 5 wall also makes a completely waterproofed cover necessary in my climate. The 5 wall sports white Poly tarps, as yet not cut to size. The poly lasts about 2 years in UV before leaking. Previous Canvas and Cordura covers lasted about the same length of time. I do believe I am learning.
This was the 4 wall Gers first outing. As you can see the covers over the door are still untrimmed and finished and the Tonoo does not have the windows installed. For this pitch we tried placing the felt walls only on one side. We quickly learned that the felts were an advantage they insulated from heat as well as cold. On steamy hot days the covers at the right of the door at the Kitchen han were lifted and the breezes blew up and thru the tonoo. Cool! Everyone wanted to come and visit in the only cool dwelling in the festival grounds out of literally thousands of boiling hot tents. It is not uncommon on this festival field for storms to gust up to 40 mph. The ger took the abuse without a whimper. With the clear poly cover over the front half of the felt Urgh we found no leaks after a night of heavy rain.
This is how the Ger looks today. It is still not finished. I have more decorative painting to do and the second dragon and turtle need to be finished but it has been pitched three times over 7 months and I have grown fond of it. I think my son and his cohorts will probably inherit the old 5 wall. The solar system is two 60 watt solarex panels that store their energy in a power box with a 120 amp 12 volt battery. The power box has a distribution panel for 12 volt and a 200 watt/ 110 volt inverter. With my LED lighting I can go for days, (and nights) with little or no usable sunlight to the panels.
--watch out for mildew under the panels!! (says he who knows)--
Some additional photos.
This was a first attempt at a dragon for the bagan. I wasnÕt happy with where it was going and my heart wasnÕt into going further with the carving.
This is the tonoo
of my old 5 wall Ger.
I didnÕt want to shrink this too much. This is the inside of the present door to my 5 wall Ger. This is the nontraditional interpretation of a blue Tara, one of the prepubescent female forms of Buda that is revered in Mongolia.
--oops, I only saw GREEN Tara's, and WHITE ones--
I expect that it would not be normal to place a deity on the inside of the door.
--I would put a farwell-prayer there-
The normal altar is opposite the door and mirrors are placed there to reflect the bad sprits back out thru the door, but I wanted to decorate and this just kind of happened. I guess it was just a divine intervention.
I did a double take when I looked at this photo. I had forgotten how much bigger a 5 wall Ger is than a 4 wall. The difference in diameter is only about 4Õ (120 cm) but the useable floor space is huge. I donÕt miss the additional space though. The 4 wall is so much more compact and secure for two and much easier to heat. The 5 wall is about 20Õ (6 meters) across. That is bigger than some apartments I lived in while a student. I would feel guilty in a 5 wall unless I was living in it full time with someone. The stove in the photo is an old US Army tent stove. It was cheap at about $100.00 and has a cook hole that a wok can sit in but itÕs heavy at about 80 lbs (36 kilos) and because it isnÕt air tight it needs to be fed about every three hours. IÕm saving my pennies to buy a Four Dog stove that I saw. ItÕs an air tight that will hold a fire over night if you bank it down. It also weighs half of this beast.
Some decorative paint and new straps were added after the 2008 Fest season. Notice that we now use sand filled plastic jugs instead of sand bags to hold the cover ropes.
--what ever happened to STONES??--
This photo shows the return to strap hinges; I had tried the lift off type but thought that they were more trouble than they were worth. These strap hinges allow support further across the door and IÕve had good luck with them on my 5wall over the years.
I also returned to a simple cupboard latch lock & key to secure the door. The key hole is covered by a brass escutcheon plate both to disguise and keep out the weather. A rare earth magnet set in the door frame grabs onto the metal case of the lock keeping the door closed when we need to take one of those midnight walks.
--now that I call clever--
--in Mongolia a door is no good if it doesn't jam, they make em that way, so they so they can save on a lock--